The Toyota Avalon flies under the popularity radar as a comfortable car with American-class roominess. It’s also the only large-midsize sedan sold as a gasoline-electric hybrid.
Toyota sells about a billion Camry sedans a month versus a tenth of that number of the slightly larger Avalon sedan. But the Avalon might actually be a value purchase for the buyer who is less price-sensitive.
Today’s tester, the Avalon Hybrid, is sold in three trim levels with starting prices ranging from $38,350 for the XLE Plus (today’s tester) to $42,815 for the Limited. That rest of the Avalon lineup — with a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission — has starting prices that range from about $34,000 to $43,000, including the $865 freight charge from Georgetown, Kentucky.
The Avalon Hybrid XLE Plus ($38,350) is a fine starting point for a large and comfortable car that has five-star safety ratings. The midrange XLE Premium and Limited models layer on the luxe finish and more advanced technologies.
I liked the XLE Plus for its durable disposition (not too luxurious), stylish exterior (it shares an architecture with the Lexus GS sport sedan) and simple yet effective hybrid system with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The hybrid system varies power between the gas engine and electric motor, or combines both, as needed.
Standard equipment includes smart-key locking with push-button ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, moonroof with sunshade, an acoustic windshield and front side glass.
There are more advanced hybrid systems (such as for plug-ins or lithium-ion battery packs), but the Avalon has the usual fuel-sipping measures of regenerative braking, automatic stop-start at idle and low-speed driving on electric power. The hybrid components have warranty coverage of eight years or 100,000 miles (standard in the industry), but the nickel-metal hydride battery pack (204 1.2-volt cells) is less expensive to replace, should you keep your car a very long time.
The compact nickel-metal-hydride battery is stashed in the trunk area, but there is still a very usable 14 cubic feet of trunk space.
The hybrid model’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combines the electric motor and battery system for a total of 200 horsepower. It has fuel economy ratings of 40 mpg city, 39 highway and 40 mpg combined on 87 octane. With its 17-gallon tank, there is a commuter-comfortable cruising range of almost 700 miles. I averaged 36.5 mpg.
Performance is surprisingly powerful and immediate when needed. The ride quality is soft — old-school Buick soft. It’s comfortable and non-sporty, but it hurtles securely through corners. The regenerative braking system — with 11.7-inch vented front discs and solid 11.1-inch rear discs — engages smoothly and seemed well-suited for the car’s 3,594-pound curb weight.
Sightlines over the hood and both shoulders are unrestricted. The front seats are full-bodied and supportive. And the driver controls are all easy to view and intuitive to use. Even the touch controls, for such cabin functions as fan speed, respond immediately with just a light tap. Some of these touch systems are numb and frustrating to use, but Toyota has it figured out as a user enhancement, not just a technology gimmick.
Larger cars benefit from more room to place features, such as charging ports, storage and cup holders. It’s all here and organized in an orderly layout. But as electrified as this car is, there is a foot-pumper parking brake rather than an electric brake system, which saves space and is expected on such an electronic car. And why is there just a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat when the driver gets an eight-way adjustable seat? It’s only available on the Limited, which also upgrades the driver to a 10-way power seat.
The back seat has adult-class room, wide entry and exit and a low transmission tunnel, which frees up footroom at the center seat. Because of the battery in the trunk, the seatback does not fold, but there is a pass-through for skis and other things.
Automakers like to think their customers are trendsetting entrepreneurial types who blaze through long hours of work and then slake their stress with a weekend filled with far-ranging activities. Of course, their cars have to be prestigious style statements. But what about those who just want a comfortable, stylish car without paying the price of a stiff ride and hard seats? They will kiss a lot of frogs looking for that prince. But the Toyota Avalon is such one. Its large size gives mass (presence) on the road; it has a luxurious presence without a luxury-vehicle price; and what it may lack in sex appeal it overcompensates with a giving and forgiving personality.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage